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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – Dec. 15

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray, and Jim Rosica.


There will be nine candidates up on stage tonight in Las Vegas for the fifth and final Republican presidential primary debate of 2015, scheduled to air at from 9-11 p.m. Eastern on CNN. The debate will take place at the Venetian, one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, and the largest in the U.S.

As the front-runner, Donald Trump will again take center stage, but this time he’ll be flanked on one side by Ted Cruz, who has taken dramatic strides in being the most serious challenger to Trump’s hegemony in the polls with his ascendency in Iowa over the past week. Dr. Ben Carson, who continues to plummet in the polls, will stand on the other side of Trump.

It’s been five weeks since the GOP candidates last debated in Milwaukee on November 10.  A lot has happened since then, first and foremost were the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130. Three weeks later came the ISIS-inspired shooting attack in San Bernadino.

Expect a lot of questions on national security and immigration, Syrian refugees, and gun control from moderator Wolf Blitzer and his two panelists, CNN’s Dana Bash and Salem Radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt.

Chris Christie, who failed to make the main stage at the Milwaukee debate because of poor polling numbers, will be back at the main stage, as will Rand Paul, whose status was questionable last week based on his recent polling.

In order to qualify for the main stage, candidates had to average 3.5 percent nationally in polls recognized by CNN, and at least 4 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham will participate in the undercard debate, which will air at 6 p.m. Eastern.

DEBATE OFFERS JEB BUSH A CHANCE TO TAKE THE FAMILY GLOVES OFF via Ashley Parker of The New York Times – [I]n an election cycle where the Republican Party’s grass-roots wing is angry and looking for a presidential candidate who projects a visceral sense of their frustration, some of Jeb Bush’s supporters say he may need to learn the fine art of negative campaigning. Tuesday in Las Vegas…. Bush — perhaps more than anyone else onstage — might be compelled to prove he has the strength and passion not just to lead the nation, but to hold his own in the aggressive Colosseum of modern politics.

— “The kind of year it’s been for Jeb Bush” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

— “Will Tuesday’s debate be Jeb Bush’s last?” Via Mark Meredith of News 10 (Albany N.Y.)

DONALD TRUMP DOES VEGAS via Shane Goldmacher of POLITICO  For more than an hour Monday night, Trump stood center stage and whacked the media, praised the polls, and bashed, over and over, everyone who disagreed with him. And, repeatedly, he fomented fears. Of young Syrian men (“How come they have cell phones?”), of the border with Mexico (“The drugs pour across.”), of terrorism writ large (“These people are animals.”).

This was Donald Trump in his element. The packed rally of thousands just off the Las Vegas Strip set the stage for Tuesday’s nationally broadcast debate showdown at the Venetian. … “This will not be an evening in paradise for me,” Trump said, predicting his rivals would pile on against him. Not that he predicted their success. “So far everyone that has attacked me has gone right down the tubes.”

TWEET, TWEET: @McKayCoppins: Trump supporter yells “Light the motherf*cker on fire” as protester is dragged away at rally. … Trump gleefully narrates clashes between activists and security, press swarm with cameras/phones, supporters crowd around cheering. Surreal.

>>>VIDEO here.

MARCO RUBIO-TED CRUZ FEUD TAKES CENTER STAGE via The Hill – Cruz, a college debate champion, has been testing attack lines in interviews over the past weeks, portraying Rubio as a big-government neoconservative who wants to topple every Middle Eastern dictator within range. Rubio, for his part, is attacking Cruz for being feckless on national security due to his support for legislation weakening the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency.

Veteran GOP strategist Charlie Black, who is neutral in the 2016 primaries, said Rubio will be ready for Cruz on Tuesday night given his rounds in Senate debates with skeptics of U.S. interventionism. “Marco’s already been through these debates in the Senate with Cruz and [presidential candidate Sen. Rand] Paul on metadata,” Black said in a telephone interview Thursday.

DEBATES FUEL STRONG INTEREST IN 2016 CAMPAIGN – A new Pew Research survey finds that 74% of Americans say they “have given a lot or some thought to the candidates, higher than the shares saying this at comparable points in the past two presidential campaigns… Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say they have watched at least some of the televised debates between the candidates.”

In December 2007 – the most recent election in which there were contested nominations in both parties – just 43% reported watching any of the debates.


Republican dark horses have a lot on the line in Las Vegas debate” via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News

Is Carly Fiorina relevant?” via the Washington Post

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‘SORRY, GEORGE!’ — JEB THROWS SHADE AT ‘STAR WARS’ PREQUELS AND TELLS US WHY HE’S EXCITED FOR THE NEW MOVIE via Maxwell Tani and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider – Count … Bush among the fans and critics who think that director J.J. Abrams made the right move by leaning on “old-school” filmmaking techniques while making “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” … “They could’ve made massive technological advances, cause now, the technologies that are available to transform ‘Star Wars’ into something — you know, another futuristic movie. But it looks to me that they, with great subtlety, have made small advances. I want to see how that plays out, and how people respond to it. I think that’ll be fascinating.”

MARCO RUBIO’S WIFE: A PARTNER READY TO PUNCTURE HIS EGO via Michael Barbaro & Kitty Bennett of The New York Times – Friends describe Mrs. [JeanetteRubio, who met the future lawmaker when both were teenagers, as a pivotal figure in his evolution — a grounding, disciplined and at times corrective influence who in many ways ushered Mr. Rubio into adulthood. She was the rare spouse who regularly traveled from South Florida to the state’s remote capital, Tallahassee, when Mr. Rubio was a state representative, reminding him of obligations to family in a city where late-night deal making and drinking were common… And her social conservatism, friends and colleagues said, has deepened Mr. Rubio’s own: Many of them detect Mrs. Rubio’s influence on her husband’s outspoken opposition to abortion in almost all cases, a potential lure for Republicans in a primary but a liability in a general election against a Democrat.

RUBIO AD HONES PITCH ON TRADITIONAL VALUES via Dana Bash of CNN – Rubio is making a play for “traditional values” voters with a new campaign ad targeting those who Rubio says “feel out of place in our own country.”

In the spare new 30-second ad, titled “About,” Rubio speaks directly to the camera as he frames the stakes of the 2016 election. … The pitch is a pointed appeal to the Republican Party’s social conservative base, which is critical to success in the Republican primary, and has been energized in recent years by political fights over same-sex marriage, religious liberty and abortion.

FDP RELEASES MOCK AD FOR A RUBIO CREDIT CARD via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Just in time for Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate … the Florida Democratic Party is mocking Marco Rubio with the release of a new web video called, “The Rubio Card” that mocks the Florida Senator’s variously reported financial issues over the years.

Questions of Rubio’s spending on a Republican Party of Florida charge card first surfaced in his U.S. Senate election in 2010, when the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald were leaked two years of records from when Rubio was speaker of the Florida House.

DID RUBIO’S DONORS FUND A BOOK THAT PUT $800,000 INTO RUBIO’S POCKET? via S.V. Date of the National Journal — In 2012, Ru­bio’s lead­er­ship PAC “paid $20,000 to Mark Salt­er… John Mc­Cain’s long­time coau­thor… Salt­er helped the Flor­ida sen­at­or write his book. … Ru­bio in 2012 net­ted an $800,000 ad­vance for the book. … And here’s what is not known, what the cam­paign has thus far de­clined to dis­cuss, and what could land Ru­bio on the wrong side of Sen­ate Eth­ics rules. … Was the $20,000 from Ru­bio’s Re­claim Amer­ica PAC to Salt­er for his work on the book? For his part, Salt­er says no. … The Tampa Bay Times, though, says the an­swer is yes. Ru­bio’s … cam­paign has been un­will­ing to clear up the dis­crep­ancy.

RUBIO COURTS COLLEGE VOTERS IN SOUTH CAROLINA, GETS CEASE-AND-DESIST LETTERS via Alex Jaffe of NBC News – Rubio just wants to play some EDM. But he can’t turn it up for his college-aged supporters, he told a crowd at Furman University on Saturday, because he received a cease-and-desist letter from some “Swedish DJs.

NEW IOWA POLL SHOWS WHY RUBIO FOCUSING ON TED CRUZ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times — A new Monmouth University poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers shows: Cruz – 24 percent; Trump – 19 percent; Rubio – 17 percent; Carson – 13 percent; Bush – 6 percent … Carson on top two months ago, but his support has plummeted by 19 points since then. Cruz’s support, on the other hand, has jumped by 14 points.  Rubio has seen his vote share increase by 7 points since October.  Support levels for both Trump and Bush are nearly identical to two months ago. Evangelical voters, who make up about half of the Iowa GOP caucus electorate, back Cruz (30 percent) over Trump (18 percent), Rubio (16 percent), and Carson (15 percent).  In October, Carson held the advantage with this group – garnering 36 percent support to 18 percent for Trump, 12 percent for Cruz, and 9 percent for Rubio. Cruz also has an edge among voters who call themselves tea party supporters.  He commands 36 percent support among this group, compared to 20 percent for Trump, 17 percent for Carson, and 11 percent for Rubio.  In October, this group gave their vote to Carson (30 percent) over Trump (22 percent), Cruz (17 percent), and Rubio (8 percent).

TRUMP HITS NEW HIGH IN NATIONAL POLL via Nick Gass of POLITICO – According to the results of the latest Monmouth University poll surveying voters identifying as Republican or independents leaning toward the GOP, Trump earned 41 percent, nearly tripling the support of his closest rival, Cruz, who took 14 percent. The latest national survey was taken after… [Trump] propos[ed] in an emailed statement last Monday to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.

TRUMP’S DOCTOR: TRUMP WOULD BE THE HEALTHIEST PRESIDENT EVER via Nick Gass of POLITICO – Trump would be the healthiest president ever elected, according to a report from his personal physician… The 69-year-old candidate’s physician since 1980 wrote… “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual elected to the presidency.” At 70 years old by Election Day, Trump would be the oldest candidate elected for a first term in U.S. history.

GOP CONTENDERS PREP FOR LOUD, UGLY HOLIDAY SEASON via Eli Stokols of POLITICO — Trump is “not about to let up now, not for the holiday season or anything else. “We keep a very aggressive campaign schedule and that will continue to take place over the next several weeks,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager. … Senior Republican operatives [say] Trump’s proposed Muslim ban … ‘upped the ante’ and ‘added urgency’ to their quest to unify behind ‘one strong alternative to Trump … The upshot: There will be no break from early state television ads and campaign stops over the holidays, not even in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

CATECOMM’S 2015 HOLIDAY GREETING BROUGHT TO YOU BY “MISFIT” DONALD TRUMP via Ryan Ray of Florida Politics – Kevin Cate just released his 2015 online holiday greeting, and supporters of Trump won’t be watching it around the Christmas ham. It asks whether Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – or any other red-state hero – can “save” the GOP from a victory by the free-wheeling New York real estate mogul. The production incorporates footage from the 1964 Burl Ives-narrated Christmas television classic, while quoting Trump’s most egregious gaffes.

SPOTTED: Gwen GrahamNeal Dunn and Mary Thomas in the latest Cook Political Report rating updates: “With downtown Tallahassee added to the mostly black 5th CD, the 2nd CD basically becomes unwinnable for a Democrat, even someone as skilled a campaigner as Graham… On the GOP side, well-connected physician Neal Dunn and former Florida Elder Affairs Department counsel Mary Thomas are running and have a big head start.”

MARK BIRCHER TO FORMALLY KICK OFF CD 13 CAMPAIGN IN CLEARWATER via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics  Bircher, the retired Marine Corps Reserve brigadier general who finished third in the Republican race for Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District 2014, will hold his first event as a candidate for the 2016 CD 13 race on Tuesday night. The 62-year-old Bircher, currently a commercial pilot, will appear at 6 p.m. at the Quaker Steak and Lube in Clearwater.

NO ROUND 3 OF 2016 SENATE SPECULATION FOR JEFF ATWATER; BUT 2018 GOVERNOR’S RACE… via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post — Atwater shut the door on a Senate bid … “We are going to stay right here” in the CFO’s office, Atwater told the crowd of more than 600 at the Kravis Center … didn’t directly answer the question about the 2018 governor’s race … “I’ve invited family guests today that are really going to be part of that decision.” Atwater and Putnam are frequently mentioned as potential 2018 Republican candidates for governor … It wouldn’t take much retooling to turn Atwater’s Forum Club remarks into a 2018 stump speech. Using a series of PowerPoint slides, Atwater boasted that Florida had held the line on taxes and debt over the last decade while states like California, New York and Illinois had not.

PLAINTIFFS GO ON THE ATTACK DURING FIRST DAY OF REDISTRICTING TRIAL via Matt Dixon of Politico Florida – The Legislature’s top two map-drawers testified Monday during the first day of a state Senate redistricting trial that also featured an aggressive prosecution that used numbers-backed attacks to paint the Senate’s map proposal as a political document. … During opening arguments, King said a “base” map supported by Galvano during the special session was one of the least compliant with mathematical measures used to ensure districts are compact, which is also a requirement of the anti-gerrymandering provisions.

DAVID SIMMONS EXPLAINS WHY HE WANTED TO PROTECT STARGEL AND GRIMSLEY via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald  – A one-minute conversation between Sen. David Simmons and the staff redistricting director was replayed in the ongoing redistricting trial Monday … The phone conversation, which occurred at 9 a.m. on Oct. 26, came in the midst of the Senate redistricting session as Simmons was attempting to draft his own alternative to a Senate map that was widely unpopular with several senators.

“With respect to the maps, going to go ahead and revise the maps to get what I would consider to be more aesthetic situation. I want Highlands County out of District 18,” Simmons told Jay Ferrin, the Senate’s redistricting director, according to the recording replayed before Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. “There’s another reason that I have,” he admitted, “and that is that I do not want two of our female senators running against each other because I don’t think it’s appropriate and I think that’s the result of that. I don’t consider that acceptable. So I want you to work it so that it looks better and those two are not forced into running against each other for no purpose whatsoever.”

LAWMAKERS SAY INSTEAD OF SHOOTING BEARS, SHIELD HABITAT via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford … and Sen. Darren Soto … have filed legislation requiring state agencies to adopt rules ensuring the restoration of black bear habitat. The measure would require the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Department of Environmental Protection to prevent the destruction of habitat through timbering or palmetto berry harvesting on state lands. … Much of the criticism of the October hunt, Florida’s first in more than 20 years, stemmed from the view that it was designed to randomly kill the animals when they generally only prove a problem when they come close to residential areas seeking food.

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REST IN PEACE — FORMER FLORIDA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE LEANDER SHAW DEAD AT 85 via The Associated Press — … the Florida Supreme Court’s first African-American chief justice … was 85. Shaw was appointed to the court in 1983 by then-Gov. Bob Graham, and he retired in 2003 … considered one of the most liberal justices during his time on the court and upset conservatives when he wrote an opinion in 1989 that affirmed women’s rights to have an abortion. An effort by abortion opponents to vote him off the bench the following year failed, with 72 percent of voters in favor of him remaining on the court.

IN FLORIDA, THE RENT (TAX) IS TOO DAMN HIGH via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – An array of business lobbies has banded together to support one of Gov. Rick Scott‘s tax cut proposals that would reduce the tax businesses pay on their rents. – The new campaign, Cut My Rent 1 Percent, is backed by Florida Realtors, National Federation of Independent Business, Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Retail Federation.

“We’re advocating to cut the Business Rent Tax by 1 percent this year, with the goal of cutting an additional 1 percent each year, eventually phasing it out completely,” their prepared statement says. “The tax cut proposal would result in roughly $339 million in savings to business owners in the first two years alone.”

FLORIDA PRISON SYSTEM TO THOROUGHLY REVIEW ALLEGATIONS OF SEX ABUSE via Kate Irby of – The Florida Department of Corrections pledged on Monday to “thoroughly review” allegations of wrongdoing at Lowell Correctional Institution, the nation’s largest women’s prison, after a story in Sunday’s Miami Herald detailed instances of corruption, coerced sex and trading of sex for contraband. … Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones issued a written statement saying reforms implemented under her leadership have made Lowell a safer place, but added she plans to “thoroughly review the disturbing allegations brought forward by the Miami Herald to ensure that the appropriate action is taken against any individual bearing responsibility for misconduct.” Jones, who took over the department in January, promised to provide “relevant updates” to the public as the review moves forward.

13 CHALLENGES FILED OVER MEDICAL MARIJUANA LICENSES via Joe Reedy of the AP – Department of Health officials said in an email that 13 administrative challenges across all five regions have been received. Lobbyists and officials who have been following the process had estimated there would be eight at the most. The Southwest region has the greatest number of challenges with four. Four of the five nurseries selected – Hackney, Chestnut Hill, Costa and Knox – were represented on the rules committee.

OFFICIALS BEGIN WORK TO PASS COMPLICATED TRANSPORTATION PACKAGE via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — the first transportation department bills (SB756/HB 7027) filed in 2016 represent policy déjà vu … Provisions dealing with port funding, a House-Senate fight over the DOT’s project work plan, toll collections, a rewrite of aviation laws and a change to the environmental oversight of road projects are all making returns. But there are also some significant new policies being proposed by Secretary Jim Boxhold … to create a “financing corporation” that can be used to boost large projects that use private money as one financing mechanism … create the FDOT Financing Corporation in order to issue public debt. The idea is to use the corporation to help finance some of the department’s larger public-private partnership programs that rely on both state and private financing. Debt issued through the corporation would count toward the department’s 20-percent debt cap in state law, which is currently 9.7 percent … also include language creating a program making it easier for smaller road building companies to get state contracts. The program would set aside contracts for smaller road builders, offer them assistance bidding on contracts and waive bond requirements.

PINELLAS SHERIFF’S OUT-OF-CONTEXT QUOTES LEAD TO MISINTERPRETATION, HARSH RESPONSES via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The Florida Sheriffs Association… gave their full support to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has been under a firestorm of criticism in recent days for comments he was quoted as saying last week regarding the open-carry legislation being debated in the Florida Legislature. [T]he sheriff was quoted as saying that if an officer arrives at the scene of a crime and sees someone with a weapon, “At a minimum, they’re going to be thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them — or worse.” “His full statement is clear that he was talking about a hypothetical, in-progress situation and the challenges faced by law enforcement officers in determining” threats, the FSA said Monday.


On: Caitlin Butler, formerly Florida field director for Turning Point USA, is now district secretary for Altamonte Springs Republican State Rep. Bob Cortes.

Off: Jonathon Little is no longer Cortes’ legislative assistant. He becomes the new deputy director of communications with the Agency for Health Care Administration.

On: Little is being replaced by Murphy Kennedy, Cortes’ District Secretary.

On: Alia Leroy is the new legislative assistant for Miami Democratic state Sen. Oscar Braynon.

On: Maria Nieto is the new district secretary for Tampa Democratic state Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

On: Rachel Perrin Rogers returns as a legislative assistant for Trilby Republican state Sen. Wilton Simpson.

Off: Yale Olenick is no longer a legislative assistant for Hollywood Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel.


Michael Corcoran, Jeff JohnstonMatthew BlairMichael CantensAmanda Stewart, Corcoran & Johnston: Marathon Petroleum Corporation

Ashley Kalifeh, Capital City Consulting: Florida Adoption Council

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INDEPENDENCE DAY 2: RESURGENCE – Jeff Goldblum is back and fighting aliens again. And everything is right in the world (except for the threat of extraterrestrials).

STAR TREK BEYOND – The trailer for Star Trek Beyond, which dropped online Monday, looks like a simultaneous embrace and rejection of Abrams’s legacy with the property. It’s scored to the Beastie Boys’ blaring “Sabotage” (which featured in Abrams’s first Trek movie), and is advertising itself as a freewheeling action-adventure, as if trying to avoid the moody tone of the previous entry, Star Trek Into Darkness.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to state Rep. David Santiago.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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